We’re into the home stretch and the Administration is out there doing its usual pre-election thing. The President, speaking to friendly audiences in Texas and Georgia, is insisting this election is about taxes and terror. Meanwhile, the Iraq war is bleeding the country’s financial resources and Osama bin Laden remains not merely on the loose but it would seem no longer seriously hunted. One wonders how long it would have taken the public to realistically assess our progress in Iraq had the war not been waged on borrowed funds and, aside from the looming deficits that will impact on the next generation, no visible sacrifice. Higher taxes to cover the cost, not to mention a draft that touches all rather than a tiny fraction of American households might have put things in a different light. The question isn’t only whether the public would have soured earlier, but given the potential of real and widespread sacrifice whether they would have signed on in the first place.
Dick Cheney is out there doing his thing as well. The man who spoke with such certainty about an Al Qaeda-Iraq connection and the existence of WMDs long after both were discredited theories, now tells us that the current escalation of violence – more than 100 US service personnel killed in October – is just part of an insidious insurgent plot to influence our election. Aside from the acknowledgement of our military leaders that things have been deteriorating for many months, the fact is that Iraq has now become the primary issue for a majority of voters is not because of calculated asaults timed precisely for our election but because Cheney and his colleagues have made such a terrible mess of things from the run up to a terribly misguided war right through this bloody month. To this moment the Administration rejects any talk of strategic change, which might admit a mistake, and will consider only the possibility of altering tactics, something to which I’m not sure the Vice President has even given his nod.
Finally, and classically, Don Rumsfeld has weighed in as only he can. He still of course talks about the messiness of war – “things happen” remains his attitude even three years after he first pontificated as such over the disastrous looting that set the stage for a country out of control – anyone’s control ours or the now sitting democratically elected Iraqi government. But Rumsfeld has taken concrete action in face of adversity. Responding to the disaster under his watch, he has set in motion a major new public relations effort aimed at the 24/7 news community. As the Secretary sees it, what we really need is some focus on the good news out of Iraq or at the very least, one would have to assume, better management of the bad news that is at this point impossible to hide.
So we prepare to go to the polls. All the trends seem to be in favor of change. We’re cautioned however, that while this Congressional election may indeed have been nationalized, Tip’s law that “all politics is local” remains the norm, and a tough hurtle to overcome even in these extraordinary times. More pointedly, I think of Yogi, “it ain’t over till it’s over” which gives me pause. In the end I don’t see this so much as a test of the Administration as one of the American voting public. Have they at long last had enough? It will also be a major test for the Democrats not so much before November 7 but after should they win either or both Houses. The question then is whether they will actually function as leaders or evidence the maladies of post traumatic stress brought on by years of being beaten in one election after another either by the Republicans superior numbers (albeit often at the margin) or superior tactics aided so importantly early on by the Supreme Court. That, by the way, was not an example of judicial activism if that’s what you wondered. Activist judges are only those who rule against conservative ideology. In any event, post the hoped for victory, just saying no won’t do any more. The vague and often glibly pronounced criticism will have to be replaced by concrete alternative proposals and a readiness to talk to the “bad guys”. I don’t mean the Iranians, North Koreans and other usual suspects though that is long over due, but the Republicans. I also don’t mean talk at, but talk to and with. The problems we face today are enormous and another two years of vicious bickering, sometimes for its own sake, simply won’t cut it, nor can we afford it. We need solutions to urgent problems and waiting out Bush’s last two years on some kind of virtual side lines isn’t a luxury the country can afford nor is it what we at this point can only hope the voters will have signed on for.